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Hanukkah: The Festival of Lights
by Marjorie Dorfman

Where did this fascinating celebration come from and what does it mean to the world’s Jews? Read about its inspiring message to all, whatever holiday you may be celebrating.

Hanukkah is a Hebrew word meaning dedication, and it refers to the ancient Jewish festival celebrated in the third month on the Jewish calendar, beginning on its twenty-fifth day. Also known as the "Festival of Lights," and the Feast of the Maccabees, Hanukkah commemorates Judas Maccabees’ re-dedication in 165 BCE of the Temple of Jerusalem after the victory of the Jews over Antiochus, the Greek King of Syria. The holiday is celebrated over a period of eight days and nights.

The story of Hanukkah begins with Judah Maccabee and his army returning to the holy temple, only to discover many things broken and missing, including the golden menorah. They cleaned and repaired the temple and when they were finished, decided to celebrate with a ceremony of dedication. They wanted to light the new menorah and searched everywhere for some oil, finally discovering a small flask with enough oil to last one day. As the story goes, the oil lasted for eight days and nights becoming "the miracle of the oil." This is the significance of the eight-day ritual of celebration.

The lighting of the candles is the most important aspect of the Hanukkah ritual. All of the candles are held in the special holder known as the menorah and on each of the eight nights a new candle is added. The middle candle, which is called the "shamash", is used to light all of the other candles and it is lit every night. On the first night of celebration, two candles are lit (the shamash and the one representing the first night. That is why on the eighth night there are always nine candles burning brightly in the menorah.

Hanukkah is a festival of celebration and like any other festival, food and lots of it is required. It is traditional to eat food that ordinarily might be considered a heart attack on a plate at other times of the year, namely food fried in oil and lots of it. Some common delicacies include potato latkes and "jelly doughnuts." Another Hanukkah tradition involved playing a game with a dreidel, which is a four-sided top. On each of its sides, a Hebrew letter is written corresponding to the English words meaning, "a great miracle happened here." For fun, the dreidel is often used sort of like dice in a gambling game whereupon each Hebrew letter represents a different amount of money either lost or won (won is better).

Like Christmas, gifts are exchanged at Hanukkah time. Usually it is in the form of "gelt," which means money. Like Christmas too, Hanukkah is a very festive time for family, friends, celebration and overindulgence.

So whatever you celebrate this holiday season, enjoy yourself and remember to be grateful for all that you have. Remember too that while we all may be different in our origins and backgrounds, we are all the same when it comes to things that are truly important: family, happiness, peace of mind, food and love of life.

Happy Hanukkah
Merry Christmas
Feliz Navidad
Buono Natale and…
Shalom to all and to all a good night.

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Copyright 2006